Early life risk factors in cancer: the relation of birth weight to adult obesity

Int J Cancer. 2003 Mar 1;103(6):789-91. doi: 10.1002/ijc.10886.


The intrauterine environment appears to play a role in the development of adult diseases, including several prominent cancers. Our study aims to characterize the relationship between birth weight, a measure of the intrauterine environment, and adult obesity. A population-based sample of women aged 50-79, living in the states of Massachusetts, New Hampshire or Wisconsin, were randomly selected from lists of licensed drivers and Medicare beneficiaries to participate as controls in a case-control study of breast cancer. Information on birth weight, adult height and adult weight were collected through structured telephone interviews from 1992-1995. Our analysis was based on 1,850 interviews. A U-shaped relationship between birth weight and adult BMI was observed. Median adult BMI for the birth weight categories (in kilograms) <2.3, 2.3<2.5, 2.5<3.2, 3.2<3.9, 3.9<4.5 and > or =4.5 were 26.6, 24.4, 25.1, 25.5, 25.4 and 26.6 kg/m respectively. Compared to women 2.5<3.2 kg at birth, women in highest birth weight category (> or =4.5 kg) had an odds ratio of 1.99 (95% CI 1.13-3.48) of being obese (> or =30 kg/m(2)) as adults. The odds ratio for women in the <2.3 kg birth weight category was 1.67 (95% CI 1.01-2.76). These data suggest that both low and high birth weights are associated with higher adult BMI and support the hypothesis that fetal experience may influence adult obesity with potential consequences for risk of several major cancers.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Birth Weight*
  • Body Height
  • Body Mass Index
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Massachusetts
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • New Hampshire
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Wisconsin